Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s Opening Argument Against Slavoj Zizek: 10-Point Summary
Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, and Slovenian Philosopher, Professor and director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London, Slavoj Zizek, had a veritable duel of the century this past Friday, April 19th, 2019.
Dr. Jordan Peterson & Slavoj Zizek—Happiness: Capitalism vs Marxism was highly anticipated.
Dr. Peterson even shared in his opening statement that he had learned from a stagehand that tickets for this debate were being scalped online at a higher price than tickets to the Toronto Maple Leafs playoff games!
People fist-fight in hockey—and yet this sold-out philosophy debate at the Sony Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Ontario was the hot ticket! Undoubtedly, some in the audience would have loved to see the gloves come off anyway.
Participating in The Life of Thought
Peterson opened the debate after a very charitable introduction on behalf of both parties by moderator Stephen Blackwood, in which Blackwood said:
“…there can be few things I think now more urgent and necessary—in an age of reactionary partisan allegiance and degraded civil discourse—than real thinking about hard questions.
The very premise of tonight’s event is that we all participate in the life of thought.“
Peterson began by launching into a 10-point deconstruction of the fundamental axioms of the communist manifesto.
While granting that the manifesto is a revolutionary call-to-action and not a “standard logical argument,” per se, Peterson espoused he had, “rarely read a tract that made as many conceptual errors per sentence as the communist manifesto.”
He accused Marx and Engels of not having grasped the fact that almost all ideas are wrong, and deserve proper scrutiny—at one point verbosely characterizing Marx as a “narcissistic thinker” who, “what he thought, when he thought, was that what he thought was correct.”
I.e. Marx never considered whether or not he could be wrong.
Jordan Peterson has gone ahead and taken the liberty.
Here is a brief summary of Jordan Peterson’s—10 Fundamentally Flawed Axioms of Marxism:
Dr. Peterson faced considerable harassment from a small subsection of the audience throughout his performance, which he handled with a cool easiness. He maintained total control of the room despite the efforts of the feckless hecklers.
He closed with a statement of facts which he often likes to cite, as well as an imposition on those who “truly care about the poor”:
“I’ll leave it at this—
The poor are not getting poorer under capitalism. The poor are getting richer under capitalism. By a large margin. And I’ll leave you with one statistic.
…the child-mortality rate in Africa now is the same as the child-mortality rate in Europe in 1952…
And so if you’re for the poor…
If you’re actually concerned that the poorest people in the world rise above their starvation levels, then ALL the evidence suggests that the best way to do that is to implement something approximating a free market economy.”
Separating The Wheat From The Chaff
1. Marx Assumes History is to be Viewed Primarily as an Economic Class Struggle
Dr. Peterson argues here that Marxism assumes that the primary motivations of human beings are with regard to a struggle between economic classes. He states that it is “debatable” that history should be viewed through such a lens, as there are many other contributing factors to human motivation. E.g. psychological, spiritual and naturalistic conflicts.
“Human beings struggle with the evil they are capable of doing—with evil and malevolence within themselves”.
2. Hierarchical Struggle is Clearly Not Attributable to Capitalism Because it Predates Capitalism And Humanity Itself
Lobster on the menu!
Dr. Peterson argues his classic line here: how can capitalism be to blame for hierarchical structures if hierarchical structures are resultant of a biology which precedes capitalism—and humanity—by millions of years?
Peterson here emphasizes his admission that it IS a problem that hierarchical organization dispossesses those at the bottom, but that “implicitly linking that with capitalism” doesn’t make sense when it is “clearly a far deeper problem.”
Peterson also claims Marxism gives little to no regard for any positive elements of human hierarchy, which he characterizes as “an absolute catastrophe,” because hierarchies are actually necessary constituents of complicated social structures.
“We have to organize ourselves in some manner,” Peterson puts it.
Peterson also goes on to emphasize that human hierarchies are NOT in fact organized according to power.
“You don’t rise to a position of authority that’s reliable in a human society primarily by exploiting other people—it’s a very unstable means of obtaining power,” Peterson explains as hecklers begin to laugh loudly and obnoxiously.
“Well, the people who are laughing might do it that way,” Peterson clapped back, earning a rousing cheer of support from the audience.
3. Marx Ignores Human Beings’ Struggle Against Intrinsic and Extrinsic Nature
Here, Dr. Peterson argues that in his commitment to the idea that human history is simply a struggle between economic classes (see Point 1), Marx ignores that nature exists at all!
“A primary conflict that human beings engage in is the struggle for life in a cruel and harsh natural world,” Peterson exclaims, “and it’s as if that doesn’t exist in the Marxist domain.”
He characterizes Marxism as deciding that, “if human beings have a problem it is because there is a class struggle which is essentially economic.”
“No!” Peterson declares, “human beings have problems because we come into life starving and lonesome, and we have to solve that problem continuously. And we make our social arrangements at least in part to ameloriate that!”
Though Peterson admits, “as well as to occasionally exacerbate it.”
4. Marx Assumes History is to be Viewed as a BINARY Class Struggle With Clear Divisions Between the BOURGEOISIE and the PROLETARIAT
“And that’s actually a big problem,” Peterson says. “Tremendously big!”
Peterson points to the Russian revolution, where people were “fragmented along so many identities” that everyone could be considered bourgeoisie in relation to someone.
No matter where you looked an oppressor lurked, leading to the infamous mass killings of the “red terror”.
Exemplifying this, Peterson details the tragedy of the Kulaks—a community who “raised themselves out of serfdom and gathered some degree of material security about them over a period of about 40 years.”
1.8 million Kulaks were exiled and 400 thousand killed during the revolution.
The loss of their productivity and personal property arguably caused the famines of the 1930’s which led to the deaths of 6 million Ukranians.
5. Marx Assumes That All The Good is on The Side of The Proletariat and All The Bad is on the Side of The Bourgeoisie
“This is classic group identity think,” Peterson says.
Here, Peterson criticizes identity politics for dividing and pitting people against one another, which allows them to dehumanize each other.
Peterson asserts that the Marxist notion that a person’s moral worth can be equated with their economic status is “absolutely foolish and naive beyond belief!”
6.The (Technically Crazy) Dictatorship of the Proletariat
Here, Peterson renders absurd the concept of a Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
His argument is as follows:
Marx says the problem is that capitalists own the means of production and they are oppressing the workers. This, Marx theorizes, is bound to crash wages as capitalists compete to drive down wages and maximize value from the worker.
This of course did not happen because workers became scarce, which drove wages back up.
The only way you could imagine a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Peterson supposes, is to assume as Marx did that the bourgeoisie are all evil, and the proletariat are all good—therefore you could just oust the evil-doer (bourgeoisie) and replace them with any of the good people (proletariat) and none of them would become corrupt, because they are the GOOD GUYS.
Peterson reminds his audience here—this was supposed to be the first stage of the communist revolution—which was supposed to be a bloody and violent overthrow of all social institutions.
[At this point hecklers begin cheering loudly, but are silenced by a comically quizzical and concerned look on Peterson’s face which wins over the crowd.]
“Um, anyway…” Peterson segues with a reassuring laugh from the audience.
This failure to imagine the corruption of the proletariat dictatorship inevitably results in a chosen few from the proletariat class being elevated to positions of power and becoming even more corrupt than the capitalists they replace, “which is what I would say happened every time this experiment was run,” Peterson concludes to applause.
7. Nothing Capitalists Do Constitutes Valid Labor
Here, Peterson paints a picture of the supposed capitalist as caricatured by the suppositions of the communist manifesto. An 1830’s aristocrat bent on gambling and rendering prostitutes.
“First of all, you’re a bloody fool to exploit your workers, even if you’re greedy as sin, because you’re not going to extract the maximum labor from them doing that,” Peterson declares.
Peterson also surmises that to believe that a capitalist or manager has no productive value in their capacity for abstract work means you either know nothing about running a business or you refuse to know anything about running a business.
8. Criticism of Profit
Here, Peterson explores the Marxist criticism of profit.
“What’s wrong with profit, exactly?” Peterson implores. “How can you grow without profit?”
Peterson then details the usefulness of profit, including to limit wasteful spending and create savings for hard times.
Whereas Marxists see all profit as theft—this again is only possible by assuming the absolute evil and lack of value of the capitalist.
9. Marx Posited That The Dictatorship of The Proletariat Would Become Magically Hyper-Productive Without Providing Any Theory as to How
Here, Peterson infers that the Marxist notion of hyper-production following the establishment of the “absurd” and “impossible” dictatorship of the proletariat is included without any justification.
He states this was done simply on the grounds that it was necessary to the continuity of the message that this bloody revolution will inevitably result in a universal abundance of goods for all people, and a human utopia.
The problem with this, as Peterson sees it, is that people are different.
Utopia in itself is an oxymoron. It is an example of over-extension of the particular, whereby the individual extends their own interpretation of the world onto the universal human experience, which is always invalid.
The Marxist doctrine, by Peterson’s account, supposes that once this abundance of goods has been accumulated, people will suddenly do the meaningful creative work which the “capitalist horror show” has made impossible.
“What sort of shallow perception of people do you have?” Peterson asks, referencing Dostoevsky.
“Dostoevsky’s idea was that we were built for trouble—if we were ever handed everything we needed on a silver, platter the first thing we would do is engage in some form of creative destruction, just so something unexpected could happen! Just so we could have the adventure of our lives.”
” And I think there is something to be said for that,” Peterson concludes to applause.
10. The Communist Manifesto Repeatedly Admits That Capitalism is The Most Effective System of Production Ever Known For Generating Material Commodities—Why Upset the Applecart?
In Peterson’s words, “if your proposition is—look we gotta get as much material security as possible for everyone, as fast as we can—and capitalism is already doing that at a rate that’s unparalleled in human history, wouldn’t the logical thing be to just let the damn system play itself out?”
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson closing statement, excerpts:
“And if you’re a thinker—especially a sociological thinker on the broad scale, a social scientist for example—one of your moral obligations is to think… you might be wrong about one of your fundamental axioms or 2 or 3 or 10!
And as a consequence you have the moral obligation to walk through the damn system and think, ‘well what if i’m completely wrong here and things completely invert and go exactly the wrong way?’
And I just can’t think how anyone could come up with an idea like a dictatorship of the proletariat—especially after advocating its implementation with violent means—and actually think, if they were thinking, if they knew anything about human beings and the proclivity for malevolence that’s part and parcel of the individual human being, that that could do anything but lead to a special form of hell. Which is precisely what did happen.”
“Marx also thought that what would happen inevitably as a consequence of capitalism was that the rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer, so there would be inequality.
First, I’d like to say that we do not know how to set up a human system without some form of inequality. No one has ever managed it, including the communists. And the form of inequality changed, and it’s not obvious by any stretch of the imagination that the free market economies of the west have more inequality than the less free economies in the rest of the world.
And the one thing you can say about capitalism is that, although it produces inequality—which it absolutely does—it also produces WEALTH. All the other systems don’t! THEY JUST PRODUCE INEQUALITY!”
[loud, long cheers]
Look for further summary and analysis here at Hobo News Clown!